Patrick Kaleta was taken to the hospital on a stretcher last week. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Kaleta nearing return following scary neck injury

BUFFALO – If Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta has his way, he’ll return to the lineup tonight against the Montreal Canadiens

Forget that the winger left the First Niagara Center on a stretcher last Tuesday after injuring his neck and spent the night in the hospital. Forget that he’s only been through one non-contact practice. Forget that coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t sure if the 26-year-old has even been cleared to play yet.

“I’m available whenever the coaches may need me, no matter what the case may be,” a smiling Kaleta said Wednesday. “I have a high pain tolerance. I can battle through whatever.”

Ruff said that’s Kaleta’s “enthusiasm pushing through.”

“I think in all fairness that’ll be a coach’s decision and I’ll make a wise one on that,” Ruff said about Kaleta returning so soon.

Read: Kaleta will likely miss his fifth straight game tonight.

Kaleta, who has a long history of neck injuries, feared for the worst after Toronto’s Mike Brown hit him into the boards as he turned early in a 4-3 overtime loss.

“You realize why you play the game when you have to get taken to the hospital on a stretcher,” Kaleta said. “You think about certain things (like), ‘Hopefully, everything’s OK, or, ‘Is this going to be the last time I’m ever going to suit up?’”

Ruff wants the ultra-aggressive Kaleta to calm down a bit on the ice to preserve his career.

“I think there’s an obligation that Patty has to be … a little bit more careful in some situations (like) …. not getting his back turned at all costs, trying to protect the puck and take a blow that maybe he doesn’t have to take,” Ruff said. “He’s going to have to be better at (it). That’s just for his own well-being and his career. That’s a fragile area.”

In other injury news, defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (muscle strain), Robyn Regehr (lower body) Andrej Sekera (bruised foot) and Mike Weber (maintenance) all missed practice Wednesday. Regehr, who’s on injured reserve, skated alone before his teammates.

Ehrhoff will likely miss his second game tonight.

Sekera, Ruff said, is progressing and can exercise off the ice.

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